Caring for the caregiver

TOWNSHEND, Vt. – Being a caregiver for a neighbor or a loved one comes with many responsibilities … so many so that caregivers often neglect taking good care of themselves.

Before you can take care of someone else, you need to first care for yourself. Remember the advice on airplanes: first don your own oxygen mask before helping someone else.

Caring for yourself both physically and emotionally is not selfish, it’s wise and necessary.

Here are some specific ways to practice self-care. Don’t let this list of ideas overwhelm you – you don’t have to do everything, pick a few and get started:

  • Keep your doctor’s appointments and tell your provider about any changes in appetite, sleeplessness, exhaustion, or stress.
  • Keep moving for your own health. Aim for three 10-minute walking sessions each day. Or find other activities that you enjoy doing.
  • Remember to eat well, with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts, with limited amounts of red meat. Stay hydrated: use a favorite water bottle to make it fun and aim for 64 oz. of water each day. Adding raspberries, lemons, or other fruit may make water more appealing. Start slowly if you need to, and increase as you go.
  • To care for yourself emotionally, find ways to help you cope. Go for walks, try yoga or meditation, or read a book.
  • Take breaks. A break means accepting when friends and family offer to help. Let them watch over your loved one while you take a walk, or run errands, or meet a friend for a cup of coffee or herbal tea. Check into respite care, an option that is available so you can provide care for yourself.
  • Coping can also mean speaking to a counselor or other support person who can provide you with a mental break.

Here’s an even more abbreviated list – clip this out and post it on the refrigerator:

  • Let go of feeling guilty.
  • Join a support group (Many are offered virtually right now. The Vermont chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has support groups listed on its Facebook page. also offers online support groups.).
  • Stretch and breathe.
  • Get some laughs (TV, comics, or call a funny friend).
  • Talk to someone beyond your home at least once a day.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Get rest.
  • Eat well.
  • Ask for help.
  • Accept help when it’s offered.
  • Ask for flexibility at work.
  • Don’t feel guilty saying “no.”
  • Take time for spiritual practices.
  • Be kind to yourself!

By Claire Bemis, RN, Grace Cottage Care Coordinator

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